Employee engagement trends across Africa – are we winning?

In the modern-day doom and gloom of COVID-19 and the everlasting uncertainty that it creates, the need to drive superior levels of employee engagement is now more important than ever. The Africa People Advisory Group “New Ways of Working” study (2021) cited employee wellness as one of the most important “people” trends for organisations in Africa to focus on. With a heightened risk of employee burnout, we have a moral obligation to look after our workforce. People focus aside, it makes business sense!

As if COVID-19 was not enough the next big trend is already here, have you heard about “The Great Resignation”? Speculation is rife if this is only an issue for Tech companies in the US or if we in Africa can expect a similar trend?

The one thing we know for sure is that the future is uncertain! At the same time, some exciting developments are brewing in the world of HR – most notably EX, or Employee Experience. EX truly can transform our world forever.

EX is the transformation that places employees in the middle of the organisational universe, as a key stakeholder in the success of the business, and engagement is the outcome of those efforts.

In this article, I want to share some trends on the levels of employee engagement across Africa. These are not speculations, the data is gleaned from employee engagement work we do across the continent, and it makes for some interesting reading.

I guess the first question would be, “what is a good level of employee engagement?”. The answer is not simple, it all depends on the questions you ask as well as the rating scale for responses. In our own instrument, we use a 5-point scale across several engagement dimensions, namely: Leadership, Compensation, Meaningful Work, Enabled to Deliver, Development, and Connectedness to Purpose. The final dimension relates to Core Engagement, this set of questions gives us a good sense of employees’ commitment to the organisation.

In our Africa-wide survey of some 20 000 employees across the continent, we found the overall engagement score to be 74%. This is based on a standard set of questions. During times of economic downturn and world turmoil, this score is commendable. The data suggests that organisations are serious about engagement and taking active steps to improve EX.

The top-scoring dimensions are Meaningful Work (89% favourable) and Connectedness to the Purpose (83% favourable). These are closely followed by an overall Core Engagement score of 79%. This is good news for organisations! A low score on Core Engagement could be an indicator of an intention to leave the organisation. It is also encouraging to note that Enabled to Deliver as a dimension scored 78% favourable, this is a great message about access to tools and empowerment to deliver work.

If there are winners, there are typically also some losers. Development achieved a score of 62% favourable, this means there is some work to do. This relates to access to learning, career-pathing, and development opportunities.

The lowest scoring dimension is Compensation, with an overall favourable score of only 47%. What is also concerning about the Compensation dimension is the fact that 29% of responses were unfavourable. When we deal with clients with low scores on Compensation, which incidentally is not always the case, we typically advise on three areas of focus.

Firstly, ensuring Job Evaluation is up to date and that clients regularly review the evaluation of roles. The second item is for clients to participate in a local salary benchmark project periodically. If one can tick both boxes, the last one would be to educate employees on the whole employment deal, or as we like to call it the EVP (employee value proposition), play open cards, and make sure people understand what you offer beyond compensation.

I have left the most important for last –Leadership! Leaders set the tone for engagement in organisations. If leadership fails, it is likely engagement will be low … and client complaints will be high. Our data shows the overall Leader dimension score is 76% favourable.

We also measure employee Net Promoter Score. The current Africa-wide benchmark is positive 16.5. This means that if asked, or sometimes without being asked, more employees will promote your brand as a place to work than employees who will discourage friends and family to consider your company as a place to work.

So, what is next?

At a minimum organisation should be taking a dipstick check on engagement levels annually or bi-annually. A word of caution though, if you are not going to commit to work on the feedback, then rather don’t measure it. When you measure engagement through a survey, you are creating an expectation for action, take it seriously. We would strongly recommend you consider outsourcing the survey to an external party, to maintain objectivity and confidentiality.

Your long-term view and goal should be focused on employee experience (EX). Progressive organisations should be moving to EX, read up on it understand the principles, and then take baby steps. EX is a long-term commitment!


– Deon de Swardt is a Managing Partner at Africa People Advisory Group.